Mobb Deep – Hell On Earth (November 19, 1996)

After their laughable 1993 debut album, Juvenile Hell, Mobb Deep would regroup (figuratively) and in 1995 released their undisputed masterpiece, The Infamous, which just might deserve a spot in the top-ten hip-hop albums of all-time discussion (feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comment section below). Not only was The Infamous a critical darling, but it would also earn the Queensbridge duo their first gold plaque. Mobb Deep wouldn’t waste much time following it up, and in November of 1996 they would return with their third release, Hell On Earth. Random thought: Why do we refer to second albums as sophomore, but we never call third albums, junior?

While Q-Tip would lend a hand to help produce a portion of the tracks on The Infamous, Hell On Earth would be completely produced by Havoc and would also feature a handful of special guest cameo appearances. Hell On Earth would produce four singles, receive favorable reviews, and would become Mobb Deep’s second consecutive gold certified album. And many consider Hell On Earth to be just as strong an album as The Infamous.

I haven’t listened to Hell On Earth in a hot minute (no pun intended), but my ears are prepared to be bombarded with mucho amounts of thuggery.

Continue to rest easy, Prodigy.

Animal Instinct – Havoc opens Hell On Earth with a wearied string loop and a bloated bass line placed over hard-hitting drums that he, P, and a few of their Mobb members, Gambino and Ty Nitty, use to warm up for the evening, exchanging violent pleasantries (which includes Havoc threatening to “bleach blind” fools, while P’s stabbing rivals in the neck with icepicks). The duo close things out with a refrain that blames their devilish deeds on their uncontrollable animal instinct. This was a decent way to kick things off and set the tone for the evening.

Drop A Gem On ‘Em – I thought this was the lead single from Hell On Earth, but after a little research (by research, I mean Google) I discovered it was actually the second single. Havoc picks up the energy a bit with this one, mixing a haunted piano loop, a soulful pain ridden female vocal sample, and drums that kick you square in the nose. P and Hav are clearly responding to Pac and the numerous shots he fired at them on “Hit ‘Em Up” and throughout the The Don Killuminati album, as P spits: “You got a gat, you better find it, and use that shit, think fast and get reminded, of robberies in Manhattan, you know what happened, sixty G’s worth of gun clappin’, who shot ya? You probably screamed louder than an opera, New York got ya, now you wanna use my Mobb as a crutch, what you think, you can’t get bucked again?” Without saying Pac’s name, it’s clear who they’re talking about, and I found it interesting that they kept the song on the album despite Pac’s untimely demise. Regardless, this record still sounds great.

Bloodsport – Let me start by saying, I love this song title. Hav and P’s content matches it very well, as they take turns verbally blooding up their rivals, which includes another icepick reference. But the true star of this record is Hav’s simple but stellar murky production that makes the threats from these self-proclaimed “pioneers of this violent nigga rap shit” sound even more threatening.

Extortion – Mobb Deep keeps the musical vibes dark, as Havoc builds this backdrop around a moody bass line and a terrifying shrieking string loop. Method Man and his magnificent flow join Hav and P to carrying on the album’s thug theme, and after all these years, Havoc’s threat to “Dead your shorty like abortion” still makes me laugh uncomfortably. This joint is hard.

More Trife Life – This one kind of picks up where “Trife Life” from The Infamous left off, hence the song title. A horny Havoc goes solo and shares the details of a trip to get some booty that turns into a whole lot of drama for our host. I have all types of issues with Havoc’s storyline: After shorty tells Havoc that her jealous ex is in the apartment building lobby, and Hav suspects that he may be a pawn to get her ex jealous, or worse, he’s being set up for a robbery, why the hell didn’t he get out of there when she went to soak in the bathtub? Then he gets so relaxed that he falls asleep before his thirsty ass wakes up to hit it. Come on, man! You deserve to get your dumb ass tied up! Along with Havoc’s storyline being completely ludicrous, his instrumental sounds empty and incomplete.

Man Down – Big Noyd (who made some strong cameos on The Infamous) makes his first appearance of the evening, sparring with his Mobb Deep bredrin, as they partake in more hoodlum shenanigans over a basic beat and an uninteresting horn loop. The song ends with a skit that finds P sonning his homie for playing around with a gun. I didn’t hate this one, but it’s average at best. Side note: P’s mention of an icepick makes this the third icepick reference in the album’s first six songs.

Can’t Get Enough Of It – Mobb Deep introduces and allows yet another crew member to join them on the mic. This time it’s General G, and he offers up a pedestrian performance that sounds just about as generic as his alias. This wasn’t Havoc or Prodigy’s best performance of the evening either, but the seductive twangy guitar loop laced throughout the track nearly got me to strip out of my boxers, and it sounds even better if you’re listening to it while driving around at two in the morning.

Nighttime Vultures – This one begins with a snippet of what I assume to be vultures based on the song title. Then Raekwon becomes the second Wu-Tang member to pop up on Hell On Earth, as he and P swap uninteresting crime tales, while Havoc provides a futile hook and a dull instrumental to back them.

G.O.D. PT III – This was the fourth and final single released from Hell On Earth. After a ridiculous opening skit that finds one of Mobb Deep’s homies bustin’ shots out their project window at one of their rivals on the basketball court, Hav places the hauntingly dark chords from the Scarface theme music over pulsating drums to create a suspensefully spooky atmosphere that makes he and P’s murderous threats hit just a little bit harder than usual. The ultra-catchy hook (that the duo gives Lime Bacardi a free endorsement on) merges the music and rhymes together, brilliantly. This shit was epic. Easily my favorite song on Hell On Earth.

Get Dealt With – MD follows up the colossalness of the previous track with a dark slightly off kilter piano loop and snapping drums that finds P threatening to “Put a hole in” his enemy’s “face so big it nearly took his whole face off,” while Havoc takes the beef beyond the mic and disses his opp’s character: “Delete those, and keep my shit discrete, niggas is trash rhymers, totally off beat, and outta sync with they life.” Definitely one of my favs on the album.

Hell On Earth (Front Lines) – This title track was also the third single released from the album. Havoc builds the backdrop around a warm and elegant string loop and our hosts continue to paint their projects as a war zone, battling rival crews and police. Dope record, and this instrumental still sounds as amazing as it did back in ’96.

Give It Up Fast – After the sound of an airplane taking off (or landing) plays, a somber string loop accompanied by heavy drums slowly fades in. Then the listener is greeted by Nas, in full Escobar mode, spittin’ what might be his weakest cameo verse to date. Big Noyd also joins Hav and P on the mic, as all three parties follow Esco’s lead and spit subpar ruffian bars over the aimless backdrop.

Still Shinin’ – As I mentioned earlier, I thought “Drop A Gem On ‘Em” was the lead single for Hell On Earth, but this was actually the lead single. I love Prodigy’s line, “We rob land, like white man” (and he makes another icepick reference), but everything else about this track was extra mid.

Apostle’s Warning – And Mobb Deep wraps the proper album with more mid.

In The Long Run – The enhanced CD version of Hell On Earth unlocks this bonus track once placed in your computer’s CD-ROM (remember those?). The instrumental has a slightly lighter feel than the rest of the production we’ve heard on the album, as Mobb Deep and their guest, Ty Nitty, stay true to their goon grammar. Ty and Havoc’s rhymes are pretty forgettable, but Prodigy’s bars get rather interesting, as he calls out a few of his rivals by name. One being Keith Murray, as he acknowledges the infamous incident (no pun intended) where Keith punched him in the face at the legendary New York City nightclub, The Tunnel. And the other being 2pac: “You seen Strapped, came outside all hyped with gats, Got juiced up, now Bishop think he thuggin’ it, Black,” and later he threatens, “I’d murder you (referring to Keith) and 2pac for two cents,” but tastefully, they censored the entire line out due to Pac passing away before the album’s release. This was far from a great record, but definitely more intriguing than the yawn inducing ending to the proper album, “Apostle’s Warning.”

Hell On Earth finds Mobb Deep picking up right where they left off at on The Infamous, with dark musical schemes decorated with bloody bully bars, killer compositions, and a newfound affinity for icepicks. Without the significant musical contribution that Q-Tip made on the previous album, Havoc’s production sounds less layered and absent are the brief glimpses of hope, as he takes a more stripped-down minimalist approach, drowning his basic drumbeats in complete hopelessness and despair, and most of it sounds great. Lyrically, Havoc continues to improve, as he sounds sharper than he did on The Infamous, while Prodigy spews decent thug stanzas, but they don’t sting with the same venom or sound as menacing and authentically bleak as they did on the previous outing.

Mobb Deep’s thug themes start to get tedious by the home stretch of Hell On Earth, and Havoc’s sparse sonic style, while mostly effective, leaves a few too many barren pockets on the album for it to be mentioned in the same breath as The Infamous. Yet, it’s still a solid album from the QB duo, who should be commended for sticking to their guns. Both figuratively and literally.

-Deedub

Follow me on Instragram@damontimeisillmatic

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